When I first started writing this blog, I promised to share the good, the bad and the ugly. This story has a little of all three.
After setting myself up on Puerto Varas, I was ready to explore the environs. I had signed up for a tour to Chiloé, through my hostel. I had also signed up for a tour to the Volcán Osorno and to Los Saltos de Petrohué (The Falls of Petrohué). These seemed to be the major tourist attractions, aside from hiking, fishing, kayaking and various other outdoor activities.
I awoke bright and early for my first tour. We were set to depart at 7:30 AM, and I wanted to ensure that I got a shower (only 2 bathrooms for as many as 15 guests at any one time), some coffee and some food. My backpack was ready – snacks, rain jacket, puffy jacket, hat, phone, money, etc. I was ready.
At 7:30, nothing. But it’s Chile, I reasoned. At 8:00, still nothing. I asked the gentleman at the front desk if he perhaps I had gotten the directions wrong. He assured me that I had not, that it took awhile to pick everyone up. At 8:15, he finally called the hostel owner. The quiet tone in which he spoke to her and the fact that he spoke for several minutes, all gave me a sinking feeling in my stomach. He finally handed the phone to me, and she explained to me (in English) that the tour had not gotten my name on the list. The tour had departed without me, and because it was such a long drive to Chiloé (3+ hours) there was no returning for me. (this is the ‘bad’)
As my disappointment rose in my chest to reach my throat, she offered that I could still join the tour going to the volcano and the falls. They were scheduled to leave at 10:30, and there was room for me. Not wanting to waste the day, I reluctantly agreed.
When the van arrives, it is a small 12-passenger vehicle. For this, I am grateful. The tour guide seems a friendly individual; the sun is shining (again!) and I begin to hope for a good day after all. The tour will be in Spanish, but I’m feeling a bit confident and adventurous. I look forward to getting out of the city and enjoying the landscape.
When did things start to go wrong? If I’m honestly assessing the day, things went wrong fairly early. I’m only understanding about 50% of what my guide is saying. This is more disheartening because I can tell his Spanish is actually good and clear. As I settle into my seat, I try not to worry too much.
The tour turns out to be one of those typically touristy tours that tries to squeeze as much as possible into one day. It begins with small stops, leading up to the grand finale at the end of the day. I realize this at the first little stop, where everyone else gets on this little boat to paddle about for 20 minutes. I realize this after the second stop, with nothing but some very intrusive llamas and a great view of the volcano. My frustration is building as we approach the third stop. Here we meet a mass of humanity.
Tour buses (the big 44 passenger ones), cars, vans, city buses, all sorts of people have convened on the tourist spots. You see, I discovered that ‘the south’ (in this case, Puerto Varas) is to Santiago what kind the Hamptons is to New York City, or the Outer Banks and Virginia Beach are to Washington, D.C. and its environs. Everyone (it seemed) had escaped hot and dusty Santiago to enjoy the cooler temperatures, landscape and volcanic lakes of Puerto Varas.
You all know how I love crowds of people. Ok, not really.
By the time we arrived at our first ‘major event’, the combination of the hordes and my inability to understand Spanish had pushed me over the edge. (this is the ‘ugly’) I was tired, frustrated and overwhelmed.
My fellow travelers noticed my unhappiness. Thankfully, they took pity and began talking to me – slowly and clearly. I ended up making some friends that day. (this is the ‘good’) I discovered that I still had some Spanish, if I slowed down to speak and focused on just one person at a time. There were two families, with kids of varying ages. There was one lady, traveling on her own because neither her husband nor kids (or her grandkids) wanted to travel with her. I loved her sense of adventure and determination to enjoy her summer (and her life)! Everyone wanted to know my story. They shared their stories. By the time we went to lunch, I had started to smile.
The falls were beautiful, but incredibly crowded. (see pictures below) I kept the crowds out of my photos, but believe me, they are just on the edges. I was happy to walk into the park, and then right back out again.
After lunch, we finally got to the best part. We drove up and up and up, winding our way around the base of the volcano, to arrive near the top. We left the crowds behind (finally). A ski lift awaited us, which would take us further up the volcano. It offered an astounding view on the way back down (pictures below). The serenity, the quiet, the majesty all came together to make the day worth all the trouble. It literally took my breath away. I was so glad that I came.
We returned to Puerto Varas very late – almost 9 PM (traffic returning to town was terrible). I contemplated going to bed with no dinner, but I knew I was waking early again to go hiking the next day. I also knew that nothing would be open early. So I dragged myself to the restaurant next to the hotel, crossing my fingers that I would not have to compromise too much on dinner.
Have you ever stopped to notice how much can change in just a few hours? I began the day forgotten, frustrated and disheartened. The day continued to worsen, and I seriously considered quitting. I wanted to take one of those city buses back to my hostel and crawl into bed. But I stuck it out. By mid-afternoon, I’d made new friends and was hesitantly smiling. As I tucked into a plate of quinoa pesto with roasted veggies and a glorious glass of Chilean wine, my waiter chatted and joked with me (in Spanish, which I mostly understood!), I realized the day hadn’t turned out so badly. This is life. This is the adventure. Not everything will go well. But you know what? Give the day a chance. Keep trying. Stay open-minded. I manage to find some goodness even on the toughest days.
Come join me next time on a beautiful hike. ¡Hasta luego!